There are many Mondays when I wake up and think this, especially as a parent. Because Mondays mean a new school week, which means waking my tired 10 and 6 year-old daughters before they’re ready, for at least the next five straight days. It means schedules and school lunches and carpool lines and healthy dinners and homework and after-school activities and successful bedtimes and so much more. It means squeezing out a writing life (and exercise and household minutia) from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., navigating 10 year-old hormones and my kid’s sassy mouth (which moves faster than her brain), and my own worries about my family and how everybody’s doing at any given point in time. Mostly it means waking up early–earlier than any of us are ready, no matter what time we go to bed the night before.
Since the coronavirus, or Covid-19 outbreak, and since our public school system closed down schools to institute virtual school-from-home, I have awoken each morning in a succession of Groundhog Day-like befuddlement.
When this first started, I’d wake and wonder who, what, and where I was. After a few days, I began to open my eyes and immediately brace myself for the painful pause. The sort of empty, hollow wait, like when an actor steps up to the apron of the stage, stares out at the audience, and appears to forget her lines.
In the mornings I wake, and remember: Everything has changed. Everything is uncertain.
Yesterday, I watched on Instagram as a writer for New York City’s Broadway spoke emotionally about how hard it was to write alone. In those few Instagram-approved seconds I could see and feel his pain, how much he missed his collaborators, how he mourned the loss of this artistic process and was fearful for the future of his craft and livelihood. At the same time, I also thought about how as a writer who is also a mother, our mourning was both similar and different. I mourn for the solitude lost, because I’ve been tossed into the role of homeschool mom, and my writing life has been taken from me just as swiftly and inexplicably as a magician tossing his black cape over it and making it vanish.
This Monday morning I set my alarm very early, before the birds were up. I lunged for my phone and tapped off the sound in hopes I’d not wake my husband (also now working from home) or the two children down the short hall. I threw a sweater over my body and tip-toed through my nearly 75 year-old house, cringing at every creak from the hardwood floor. I passed my dog in her crate but did not meet her eyes. I started coffee, and sat at my desk–a desk covered in first and fifth grade virtual day schoolwork, assorted writing utensils and markers, and the day planner I’d bought in January and filled with color-coded details about our full and busy future lives.
I’m willing to bet y’all have those day planners, too. Last week, I started to cross off items in the days ahead: to mark through the soccer and swimming practices, the weekend games, the choir and chorus rehearsals, rock climbing classes, family reunions, and parties. Then I stopped. I don’t like the way those short, slanting lines look on the page–on this plan we’d had for our lives. They look like mean little cuts, and I don’t like them one bit.
I’m an optimist, but I’m no cock-eye. More than that, I’ve always just had this lucky, intrinsic belief that everything was going to be okay. Like my feet are firmly planted in the world no matter where I am. I haven’t lost it yet. But I do battle every morning with my unknowing–which is something akin to but very different from fear.
When I was younger, my closest friends used to joke that I was the most spontaneous person they knew, never planning past tomorrow. They assumed I was laid-back, up for anything at any moment. This wasn’t untrue, but I have always made plans. I’ve always looked at tomorrow like it was full of possible impossibility.
I can’t lie: I do not feel this way right now. Or, more truthfully, I’m not letting myself feel this way. Because I only have room for doing right now, not planning. I am trying, for the first time in a long time, not to look past tomorrow. Never has the phrase take it one day at a time meant more than it does now.
The novelty of being at home is beginning to wear off, and my children are starting to feel the change. They miss their school, their teachers, their friends. They talk of birthday parties and spring break trips to the beach as if they’re still going to happen, and I in my parenting cowardice do not speak to correct them, not yet.
This is a new kind of parenting for me, this parenting without a plan. Oh sure, I make daily school-from-home schedules, and we try to stick to them. I give them that at least, because all us parents know certainty brings everyone, especially kids, a good bit of comfort. But when I say parenting without a plan, I think what I really mean is parenting without the possibility of a plan. Without the what-if’s. Without the anything-is-possible. Because I just can’t seem to go there, not yet.
Of course children worry. We see it all the time, and anyone who thinks all kids only “live in today” does not, well, have kids. But children do have this infinite capacity for living hard, and big, and wide, in the hours of the day put before them. Like my 6 year-old, who for the past two days has met her across-the-street best buddy, age 7, at the edge of the driveway for a playdate.
They did this on their own. It started with them standing at the edges of their perspective yards, in defiance of passing cars, and just chatting. Next, they brought chalk and drew pictures on the road. Then, they pulled down camp chairs, sitting and swinging their feet like little women. Yesterday, after some planning which had nothing to do with grown-ups, they got out their umbrellas and performed “Mary Poppins” together and for each other, with the wide worn asphalt of our street between them.
It was both heartbreaking and beautiful, painful and wondrous, all at the same time. And this is where I am, right now. Because today, if I can imagine anything, it is that this is what I imagine our days ahead in the time of coronavirus–parenting and otherwise–will be like.